An Evening of SXSW Winning Shorts with Tommy Edison

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Knowbility is excited to welcome Blind Film Critic, Tommy Edison back for a second year of the audio description contest as a part of AccessU 2016.

“The audio description contest is a lot of fun,” Tommy said. “It’s a thing that a lot of sighted people don’t know about, you know, this whole world of audio description. I mean, that’s the fun of this whole game, right — it’s very educational and it’s a chance for everyone to get to learn. Sighted people get to learn, I get to learn. That’s what makes it so much fun.”

The event will take place at Alamo Drafthouse on May 9th from 6 – 9 PM. Like last year, this year will feature two short films showcased at SXSW. Audience members will get a chance to listen to a professional audio describer provide description for the first film, but we’ll hand over the mic for you to try your hand at describing the second film. Tommy will then select a winner.

“I just judged it on what I heard, who gave the most detail and the person whose description I could follow the best,” Tommy said. “Sometimes people don’t quite describe the right things. For example, a red dress. Unless it’s something like ‘The Case of the Missing Red Dress,’ I probably don’t need to know the color. ”

Tommy’s lifelong love of movies led him to create the Blind Film Critic series on YouTube several years ago. The hilarious and informative series gained immense popularity, and has since transformed into The Tommy Edison Experience, which recently kicked off its third season on Hulu and Amazon Prime.

“The thing that changed for us was, in the comments of the movie reviews, people were very curious about my life, more so than they were about the movies and what I had to say about them,” Tommy said. “So that was the thing that got us to launch the other channel. It’s been quite successful.”

Because the widespread availability of audio description is relatively recent phenomenon, really only gaining traction in the last decade or so, Tommy found himself responding to movies that provided a compelling story and excellent acting above all.

“The movies that I really like are the ones that tell the story, you know, where it’s acted well and the story’s well-written. That’s what I really enjoy,” Tommy said. “For example: Goodfellas, one of my favorite movies of all time. I just love that movie, it’s just great — I don’t really think it needs audio description. I’m convinced that anybody could enjoy that movie just by listening to it, I really do. And there are others; Clerks is another that I just don’t think needs audio description. You could just put that on and listen to it and have a great time and take the ride like everybody else.”

Naturally, compelling acting became a crucial aspect of making a listenable film. Tommy has his favorites.

“My favorite actor of all time is the great Dustin Hoffman and I’ll tell you why,” Tommy said. “When you see Bobby DeNiro in stuff: There’s DeNiro. But when you’re watching Rainman with Dustin Hoffman — that’s not Dustin Hoffman, that’s Rainman. That’s how good he is. That’s how strong he is. That’s how transformative he is. And I really like that, when somebody can make me forget who the actor is. It’s incredible.”

Still, when audio description began to gain traction, it was a game changer.

“My first experience with audio description was The Matrix and that’s a movie I put on 100 times and was like ‘I don’t know, I’m lost,’” Tommy said. “But on audio description, it became the awesome movie that everybody wanted me to see.”

Knowing how to bring a film to life through description is an artform unto itself. That’s why Knowbility is equally pleased to be welcoming back April Sullivan of VSA Texas, the state organization on arts and disability, as the in-house audio descriptor.

“It was really fun to have people do it and try it out,” April said. “Some of them were good at it and some of them weren’t; it takes practice.I think just try and have fun with it because it’s scary at first if you’ve never done it before. If you just try it, even if you mess up completely, at least that’s the first step.”

After taking that initial step, you may find yourself unable to stop providing audio description to every movie you see.

“When I started doing it, every time I saw a movie I just started describing it in my head. I just couldn’t help it,” April said. “It changes the way your mind works in just paying attention to everything you’re seeing because everything’s so visual for us who see that we don’t even pay attention to all the things we’re seeing all the time. There’s so many things that come and go out of our sight and we register them, but don’t even realize it. And so when you have to look at it and break it down and go okay, ‘This is the most important thing that I have to say.’”

That shift in perspective is one of the things April values most about engaging with the world of audio description and the benefits don’t stop there.

“It’s really fun and if folks want to expand their audiences to people who are blind or visually impaired, they need to know what’s out there that they can do to add to it,” April said. “Then  they can start changing their mindset and thinking about what’s happening visually that not everybody’s getting.”  

Think you’re ready to try your hand at audio description? You can purchase tickets and find further event information on the Eventbrite website. While you’re at it, be sure to check out Tommy’s site where you can find all of his past videos and series.

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